On the martyrdom anniversary of the leader of the Shia school, Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), we find that delving into the various intellectual and scientific aspects of his legacy is more necessary than ever. Looking into the various aspects of his intellectual legacy will show us what the Imam (ʿa) did in removing the various questions and doubts which had come about in the society of that time. We will examine the life and legacy of Imam Al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) through the research and viewpoints of Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī. Let us begin by looking at a lecture given by Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī on 21/8/214. That night was the night of the martyrdom of Imam Al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) and Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī delivered this partic-ular lecture at the shrine of Imam al-Riḍā (ʿa) in the city of Mashhad in Iran:
Why Does Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) have the Title of ‘Leader of the Shia School of Thought’?
When we look back into history, we see that Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) was given the title of ‘Leader of the Shia School of Thought’; some people may have questions about how and why this came about. Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) was the sixth of the Shia Imams and so the question is raised as to why he was given this title, while Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) was the first Imam (ʿa) (and even before him, the Prophet (s) was the founder of this religion)? When we examine history, we see that the Prophet (ṣ) said to Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) as narrated in the traditions: ‘O ʿAlī, you and your followers (Shias) will be the saved ones on the Day of Judgment.’ This shows that the title of Shia was given to the followers of Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) by the Prophet (ṣ) himself. It should be noted that this is a tradition which can be found both in Shia sourcebooks, as well as Sunni ones, so it is not something which can be denied.
At the same time, since Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) was not allowed to become the caliph, he didn’t have as much of an opportunity to spread the genuine teachings of Islam amongst the people. Similarly, when he rose to the seat of power and ruled over the Muslim world, his rule lasted for roughly five years and it was beset with a series of wars, alongside many other problems and difficulties. So the era of Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) passed in this way and the era of Imam al-Ḥasan (ʿa) and Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) came. The imamate of these two Imams also coincided with an atmosphere of severe repression from the Umayyad rulers and they were not allowed to spread the teachings of Islam in an open fashion.
The era of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) was characterized by an even more repressive atmospher where the Umayyads had given the order that the Shias were to be killed wherever they were found. As a result of this order, the Shias were killed in the cities, as well as in the deserts and far flung regions of the Muslim world. Due to this reason, the people were too frightened to say that they were Shias and the followers of Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) or to approach Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) for seeking greater knowledge. Sadly enough, the repression had reached the point where if anyone was named ʿAlī at that time, he was forced to change his name (hiding his real one) lest the people find out. So it is clear that it was not possible for the Imams (ʿa) up until this point to spread their teachings that much.
Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) and the Importance of the Spread of Knowledge
During the beginning of the era of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa), the Umayyad dynasty was in decline and their government was beset by a series of internal problems and conflicts. This gave Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) relatively more freedom to teach his followers and so the light of knowledge and learning began to once again shine bright. Many people who had lived in ignorance and darkness found their way through this beacon lit by Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa). This trend continued and reached its peak during the era of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa).
Things eventually reached the point where four thousand individuals would attend the classes that Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) taught in theology, Islamic jurisprudence, ethics, Quranic commentary as well as many other Islamic sciences. The people in various cities such as Medina, Kufah, and Mecca all heard about the school of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) and his name became very well-known amongst the masses. A narrator has mentioned that he was sitting in the Mosque of the Prophet (s) one day when he saw nine hundred individuals gathered there and talking amongst themselves all of whom were narrating traditions from [Imam] al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). This shows how the Islamic teachings and knowledge was spread by the Imam (ʿa) and so it is for this reason that he is known as the ‘Leader of the Shia School of Thought’.
In a tradition narrated by Abū Zuhrah in the book al-Imām al-Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), it has been mentioned that when Manṣur al-Dawāniqī (one of the Abbasid caliphs) heard about the intellec-tual fame of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), he became very afraid. He was fearful that the people would gather around the Imam (ʿa) and the Abbasid dynasty would weaken and be in danger. He decided that he must diminish this intellectual fame through the use of other scholars.
Manṣur al-Dawāniqī decided to invite the most knowledgeable scholar he knew of during his era, which was Abū Ḥanīfah. He invited him and said to him: I have a very important plan for you; prepare forty important intellectual issues and I will invite Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) so you can discuss these issues with him in a gathering. If you are able to challenge him and prove that he is unable to answer your questions, we will make sure to spread your fame and propagate that no one is more knowledgeable than you are. When Abū Ḥanīfah (the founder of the Ḥanafī sect) heard this, he responded and said: I have not seen anyone more knowledgeable than Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad and so you have encharged me with a very heavy responsibility. Dominating over him, is no easy task, for I have seen his level of knowledge.
In any case, Manṣur al-Dawāniqī invited Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) and he seated him next to himself with honor and respect. He then said: Abū Ḥanīfah is one of the scholars of Iraq and he has some questions which he wishes to ask you. Abū Ḥanīfah came forward and he asked his forty questions one at a time. Abū Ḥanīfah himself has explained what took place in that gathering. He has mentioned: Manṣur al-Dawāniqī turned to me and said- O Abū Ḥanīfah, ask your questions.
I went ahead and asked my questions. Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) answered my questions and he would say: The answer to this question according to your opinion is this, and according to the people of Medina it is this, and according to us (the Shia school of thought), it is this… Sometimes, his opinion would be the same as the people of Medina and sometimes it would be different than everyone else’s. He continued to answer my questions until the forty questions had all been resolved in this fashion.
Then Abū Ḥanīfah has continued: ‘Do we not narrate [the tradition] that the most knowledgeable of the people is one who is aware of the opinions of the various groups?’ This is, in fact, an acknowledgement that Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) is the most knowledgeable of the people of that time period. When Manṣur al-Dawāniqī saw that Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) had answered all of the questions completely and he found himself unable to defeat him, he began to develop a deep hatred of the Imam (ʿa). He decided that his only solution was to kill him, for he found his caliphate and rule under great threat.
Safeguarding the Shia School of Thought: A Key Principle in the Intellectual School of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa)
Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) also played a critical role in the preservation and protection of Islam and Shia school; this is another reason why he is called the ‘Leader of the Shia School of Thought’. The first aspect of this relates to the reality that during that time, Islam had spread rapidly amongst the various nations. All of the developed nations of that time were generally under the banner of Islam. Since the newly converted people of these nations possessed various different customs and beliefs, some deviant customs and beliefs of non-Muslim communities slowly began to take root in the Muslim community as a whole.
The beliefs of the Christians and the Zoroastrians, and the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans began to seep into the fabric of Islamic ideology. Even the materialists felt the environment comfortable enough for them to propound their own atheistic theories openly. Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) was faced with a deluge of such non-Muslim ideas and ideologies which were sometimes antithetical to the religion and so he busied himself in fighting against these deviant currents and correcting the various mistaken ideas which were floating around.
The second aspect of this relates to the enemies of Islam who saw a good opportunity to weaken the religion from the inside. They realized that they could not destroy the government or fight against the Muslims openly, so they were left with the one option of influencing the religion and altering it from within. They particularly focused on the Muslim youth, hoping to push them away from the religion with their propaganda.
The gravity of the situation in those times is completely clear in a story narrated by Mufaḍal ibn ʿUmar (one of the close companions of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). He has mentioned that he was in the Prophet’s Mosque one day when he saw Ibn Abī al-ʿIwajā (who was a materialist and an atheist) sitting next to the Prophet (ṣ)’s grave propagating his atheistic views. He was busy teaching the people that God did not exist and religion was a false construct. Mufaḍal has narrated that he went close to him and began to yell at him for what he was doing. Ibn Abī al-ʿIwajā in turn responded to him and said: It seems that you are one of the companions of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). You must know that your Imam never speaks to us in this way, nor does he become angry at us. He answers our questions and reasons with us in a way where we are left speechless and unable to answer him.
Mufaḍal ibn ʿUmar then narrates that when he heard this, he went to visit Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). “I said to the Imam (ʿa): O descendant of the Prophet (s)! The religion of Islam is in danger and people are busy denying Allah and preaching materialism right next to the grave of the Prophet (ṣ)”. Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) said to Mufaḍal: “Come see me tomorrow at sunrise so that I can tell you about the proofs of Allah”. Mufaḍal then says that he came at the appointed time and the Imam (ʿa) began to speak to him about the various proofs of Allah in relation to what can be seen in the heavens, the earth, the stars, the different animals, the seas, the mountains, the deserts, etc… The Imam (ʿa) began this discussion at sunrise and he continued until the noon prayer. The Imam (ʿa) then told him to come back the next morning at the same time; the same discussion was then continued and it went on until the noon prayer.
Mufaḍal has said that the Imam’s discussion continued for four whole days… and those invaluable discussions are now with us in the form of a book called ‘Tawhīd al-Mufaḍal”. This shows us how much the Imam (ʿa) was striving against the wave of foreign concepts that flood-ed the Muslim society of that time. This is another reason why Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) is known as the ‘Leader of the Shia School of Thought’.
The Jaʿfarī University: A Foundational Institution in Protecting the Shia School of Thought
Another important point is that we must gain more knowledge and awareness in regards to the actual depths of Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (ʿa)’s knowledge and how far he took this war of ideas during his era. When we look at the students of the Imam (ʿa), we see that each one of them was a specialist in his own field. The Imam (ʿa) encouraged his students in developing these varying specialties so that each one could tackle an issue as a master in their own field.
There is a tradition which mentions that a man from Syria came to see the Imam (ʿa) and he said that he had a question in regards to the Quran; this was while some of the companions of the Imam (ʿa) were also present there. He asked the Imam (ʿa) to give him the answer to his question. The Imam (ʿa) said to one of his students named Ḥamrān: Give this man his answer in regards to the Quran. The Syrian man protested that he wanted the Imam (ʿa)’s answer and not his students. The Imam (ʿa) said: His answer is my answer; if you are able to, defeat him and you can consider me defeated as well. The Syrian man began to ask his questions and Ḥamrān answered each of them in a way where the man was left hopeless to prove his own point in the discussion.
The Imam (ʿa) asked the man: How did you find Ḥamrān? The man replied: He was well learned in regards to all Quranic sciences. The man then said that he had another question in regards to Arabic literature. The Imam (ʿa) turned to ʾAbān ibn Taghlib (one of his companions who specialized in this subject). The man asked his question from ʾAbān and he was satisfied with the answers. The Imam (ʿa) asked the Syrian man: Do you have any other questions? The man said that he did and he asked in regards to an issue of jurisprudence.
The Imam (ʿa) told him to refer to Zurārah, who was a master in that field. Zurārah similarly answered his questions until he was satisfied. The Syrian man then asked a question in regards to ʿAqāʾid (Islamic beliefs and ideology). The Imam (ʿa) referred him to a man named Muʾmin al-Ṭāq whose speciality was in this field and in Kalām (scholastic theology). Muʾmin al-Ṭāq similarly answered all of his questions. The man finally said: Your companions are experts in every field!
This shows us that the school of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) was a comprehensive school which delved into every aspect of religious thought. The comprehensive nature of the knowledge taught by Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) is fuly evident in the books which are published today in virtually every subject from Quranic commentary and Islamic ideology to jurisprudence and the principles of Jurisprudence, we find that the majority of the traditions are narrated from Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). There are so many traditions related from these two Imams (ʿa), and in particular Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), that it comes as no surprise that he is known as the ‘Leader of the Shia School of Thought’.
Had it not been for the monumental role played by Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa), Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), and Imam al-Riḍā (ʿa) in combatting the various doubts and un-Islamic concepts which threatened Islam, these doubts and deviant concepts would have seriously undermined the tenets of Islam and they would have irreparably damaged the religious community as well. These Imams (ʿa) knew that it was useless to take up arms against the Abbasids with the conditions that prevailed during that time. Instead of rising up in futile armed rebellion like Zayd ibn ʿAlī, Yaḥyā ibn Zayd, or others, these Imams (ʿa) engaged in an intellectual revolution which saved the religion.
Jābir ibn Ḥayyān, who is well known today all around the world (and who is known as the father of chemistry), was a Muslim scientist who was born in the second century AH and he was a disciple of the Shia Imams, and in particular, that of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). He is quoted to have taken a great deal of pride in the fact that he was one of the students of Imam al-Sādiq (ʿa). Similarly, Mālik ibn Anas (the founder of the Mālikī school of thought) has said in regards to Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa): I used to visit him frequently and I would not find him in other than three states: He was either praying, fasting, or reciting the Quran. He also said: No eyes, ears, or heart has ever come across anyone better than Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad (during this era) from the perspectives of knowledge, worship, and asceticism. Abū Ḥanīfah has also mentioned in this regard: If it were not for those two years (studying under Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), Nuʿmān (his own name) would have perished.
A Final Word
There is no question that the teachings of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) hold great value for us today and there is much which we can learn from such lessons. We live in a time which has many similarities to the time of the Imam (ʿa). Today, Western mass media has busied itself in spreading various deviant notions and half-baked doubts all across the globe. They have particularly focused on the Muslim world, with the youth at the very tip of their attacks. They have been unable to destroy Islam through military action, sanctions, and other forms of outright warfare. Therefore, they have decided that they must engage in a war of ideas so that they can undermine the Muslim community from within. They have decided to influence the youth in particular, since they form the most impressionable members of society and they are the future of the Muslim community.
The era of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) shared these similarities as well. Thus, it is essential that we utilize the methodology of Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) and the scholars must become well versed in the various means of propagation which exist today. They must stand up in opposition to the spread of these half-baked questions and doubts and they must educate their followers to the true path of Islam. Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) was poisoned and killed in the end by the orders of Manṣūr al-Dawāniqī on the 25th of Shawwāl in the year 148 AH; he was sixty five years old at the time of his martyrdom. Till today we mourn the loss of this great leader and we hope that we can be successful in following his footsteps.